Poll: U.S. voters support the Bayh-Dole Act, but fear its misuse by lawmakers

At least three-quarters of U.S. voters favor keeping the Bayh-Dole Act to back innovation and research, but are concerned that it may be “misused for drug price controls.”

According to a Morning Consult poll, 85% of Americans said they’d be far more inclined to back a candidate supporting the law over those who would change it.

The poll is sponsored by the Bayh-Dole Coalition, which works to celebrate and protect the Bayh-Dole Act.

“The poll found that 91% of Democrats said it was important to protect the Bayh-Dole Act and 77% of voters are concerned that misusing the Bayh-Dole Act as a price control mechanism could reduce access to cutting-edge treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s, and rare diseases,” the Bayh-Dole Coalition said in a press release.

What is the Bayh-Dole Act?

Enacted in 1980, the Bayh-Dole Act (formally the Patent and Trademark Law Amendments Act) allows “universities, nonprofit research institutions, and small businesses to own, patent, and commercialize inventions developed under federally funded research programs within their organizations,” per Drexel University.

The Bayh-Dole Act has enabled the creation of 13,000 startups and the launch of 300 new drugs on the market between 1996-2017.

Under the Act, if a drug isn’t commercialized by the private sector the government is allowed to “march in” and give that drug patent to a different company, however with certain limitations – such as a public health crisis.

Some lawmakers suggest “march-in authority” can be useful in controlling drug prices. However, innovators oppose the idea explaining that this would significantly slow down research and development of new drugs.

“That would knock out the underpinnings of our whole public and private sector partnership regime, which has worked for 42 years,” Joe Allen, a former staffer for Sen. Birch Bayh, the Indiana Democrat who helped create the law, told Bio.News. “We want to make sure that people understand that the law doesn’t work that way and it would have a catastrophic impact on innovation and it really wouldn’t do anything to lower the cost of drugs.”

Can Bayh-Dole be used to control drug prices?

While the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of Commerce (DOC) are pushing for ways to use “march-in authority” for price controls, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) maintains that they won’t allow it.

“NIH does not believe that use of the march-in authority would be an effective means of lowering the price of the drug,” the NIH said in a public letter, according to Reuters.

According to the Morning Consult poll, voters believe “American scientific leadership is promoted when the government and private sector work together to bring cutting-edge medicines to the market and when those inventions are protected.”

“We need to do everything we can to oppose this misinterpretation of Bayh-Dole and sharing these poll results is a great way to do so,” the Bayh-Dole Coalition said.

The Bayh-Dole Coalition recently named five recipients of the inaugural Bayh-Dole Coalition American Innovator Award in honor of their life-changing innovations—read more in Bio.News.

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